Three children were taken off an overloaded flight bound for Brisbane and left sitting in the air bridge without any idea of what was going on - or their parents being contacted first.

The children, aged 10, 14 and 15, were among a group of 11 passengers who were removed from an Air New Zealand flight on Saturday, just before take-off.

Brisbane based Atareta Wilson told the Herald the first she knew her upset children weren't coming home was when her oldest rang her from the tarmac at Auckland Airport.

"As soon as they were leaving the plane my son rang me and said this is what's happening and I said 'I want to talk to someone'."

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Her son told her there was no one to talk to her as they were "sitting in the tunnel" waiting to find out what was going to happen.

"I said to him 'as soon as you get someone who's not too busy I need to talk to them straight away'."

Brisbane-based Kiwi Atareta Wilson says Air New Zealand needs to communicate better with passengers and their families when they make sudden changes to their flights. Photo / Supplied
Brisbane-based Kiwi Atareta Wilson says Air New Zealand needs to communicate better with passengers and their families when they make sudden changes to their flights. Photo / Supplied

The group who were removed from the plane - including a 14-year-old girl who was also travelling by herself and a distressed elderly woman - were put into a room to wait.

It then took an hour before a stressed and angry Wilson was able to speak to someone.
That was a nurse who was doing Covid tests but she was only able to confirm what Wilson already knew from the children.

"I had three kids in New Zealand, I'm in Australia, there's nothing I can do. They're freaking out and everyone else there is freaking out."

The nurse said she would help find someone to talk to. Several police officers then arrived which put her kids on edge.

She said her two boys were booked as adults, and while her 15-year-old looked older than his age he was still only a teenager.

"My 15 year old rang me and said 'they're taking us to get a Covid test', so he was freaking out, he didn't want to get off the phone with me. My other son was on the phone with his grandfather and my daughter was on the phone with my sister.

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"They were all quite frightened."

Desiraye Solomon, who also left the plane with her daughter, described "hysterical scenes" after the captain said the plane was overweight, off-balance and passengers on a list were told to disembark.

Desiraye Solomon and daughter Délia Brown were among those taken off an Air New Zealand flight in Auckland and taken to be quarantined - Photo / Supplied
Desiraye Solomon and daughter Délia Brown were among those taken off an Air New Zealand flight in Auckland and taken to be quarantined - Photo / Supplied

Wilson said her son noticed that 10 of the 11 passengers on that list were Māori.

"My kids pointed this out to me ... 'all of us in here are Māori apart from one lady', her son told her. 'Why are they doing this to us, is it because we're Māori?'

"I was just trying to keep them calm," Wilson said.

She said it took two hours for Air NZ to finally ring her but when asked why four children were taken off the flight, the staffer was unable to answer.

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"She said 'oh, I'm just doing what I'm told and don't know what's happening exactly'."

By this stage, some of Wilson's whanau had turned up to see them and waited outside. By 5pm, her daughter called saying she was hungry and thirsty.

It was then, she was able to speak with a police officer who went out of his way to help the group, but was also unable to answer questions.

"Surely they're not just going to leave teenagers in the airport alone?"

Late on Saturday night she was called by an Australian-based Air NZ manager who was "quite surprised" about the lack of communication.

She was assured by the manager that the picking of passengers was random and nothing to do with ethnicity.

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Her children were sent to quarantine at an Auckland hotel. Their Waikato-based father drove up to accompany them and will have to complete the 14 days despite his children leaving for Australia today.

Wilson has been reimbursed for her childrens' flights but is disappointed at the lack of communication and how the airline handled the situation.

"I just want them to monitor it properly. My kids were freaked out by the whole experience because nothing was said, and they weren't told anything, really, and no one would speak to us. Just handle the whole situation better."

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An Air NZ spokeswoman said the airline wasn't currently accepting unaccompanied minors for international travel due to global restrictions in place and self-isolation requirements in other countries.

"The customers in question were booked as adults which meant their ages were not flagged in the booking. We have been in contact with the parents of the children concerned since Saturday."

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Air NZ was working with the children, as well as the rest of the group, arranging their onward travel.

"One of our customer managers will be at check-in ahead of tomorrow's flight to Brisbane to ensure the process is as smooth as possible."

The spokeswoman added that snacks and water were provided within two hours of being seated "in a glassed area" to fill out forms before being moved to the Customs hall.

Ministry of Health earlier confirmed because there were other people on the same flight who had travelled from other parts of the world on their way to Brisbane, the decision was made by health officials as a precaution for the 11 passengers to stay in managed isolation or quarantine facilities in Auckland until the next Brisbane flight on Tuesday.

"While the risk is minimal that one of the people would have contracted Covid-19 on the flight we need to act with caution as our borders are our first line of defence against Covid-19," the ministry said.

The Covid-19 All of Government Response Group also released a statement, saying the circumstances around the incident were unique and unexpected.

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